Several years ago, Hauska & Partner, PR consultancy, which operates in Central and Southern Europe, adopted a new strategic direction: They wanted to do different things in a different way. The new strategic direction was, for the most part, a result of systematic monitoring of a whole range of global and local events in economy, society and politics, in which corporate responsibility and sustainability have become increasingly more significant.
If all participants are expected to assume responsibility for their action, we wanted to know how to best respond to these changes and respond to the challenges accompanying them. With our new strategic direction we clearly defined that we not assume that we could be credible partners in the field of corporate social responsibility and corporate governance if we do not apply the same practices and procedures in our business practices.
Facilitating an Open Forum
Hauska & Partner employees were first partners. As companies are more and more expected to enable employees to express their values and provide platform for their integration in overall company values, Hauska created the framework in which employees were given opportunity to openly exchange views with company management on corporate identity, culture and business strategy.
The consultation process started in early 2005 when the employees recognized the following values as their personal and company values alike: excellence, reliability, contribution, passion and commitment. The employees also discussed diversity as one of the values, which was added on the list of company values a year later, within the second consultation process at the Hauska & Partner Academy, which is an annual gathering of all Hauska & Partner employees, organized in line with the Word Café methodology.
Next step in building our corporate culture was to create a framework for professional and ethical conduct of the management and employees. We wanted to demonstrate that it is possible to clearly define precisely what kind of conduct our employees, clients, business partners and contractors, as well as competition and professional and business associations can expect from us and set up the basis for future discussion about acceptable and non-acceptable behaviour in different countries with diverse social standards and values, as well as different regulations and laws.
Hauska & Partner operates in five countries, three of which are members of the European Union (Austria, the Czech Republic and Latvia), one of which is candidate for the next accession to the EU (Croatia) and in Serbia. It is not easy to prepare a code that would be universally applicable in all these environments. In addition, it is particularly challenging to make the code living and relevant on everyday basis. That is why we set up the Ethical Committee on the Group level in May 2007. One of the first steps of the Ethical Committee was to prepare the procedure for determining ethical dilemmas. The procedure briefly explains what an ethical dilemma is, how to recognize it and how to handle it.
The role and responsibility of the Ethics Board has also been described. Information on the procedure was sent by the Group chairman, Leo Hauska, in person, which is evidence of the importance given to ethics and ethical conduct of employees and the management. So far no employees have raised an ethical dilemma, which does not mean it will not happen in the future. It is exceptionally important that the first step has been taken in creating an actual mechanism for communication between the employees, the Ethical Committee and the management of the Group in regards to ethical issues and possible dilemmas. The next step was to develop Hauska & Partner Policy on engaging with social media by which we wanted to indicate that we want to deal with the ambiguity of our profession in an open manner. Here we followed the standard set by the CIPR and the PRSA, because PR associations in countries we operate in, still have not addressed this issue.
Preparing for the First CSR Report
In preparation of our first corporate responsibility report of the Hauska & Partner Group, we have deliberately limited it to the working environment, as focus on this area was significant for the building of corporate culture, transparency and credibility. A special working group for corporate responsibility was founded prior to drawing-up the report, encompassing management representatives and senior consultants from all countries in which Hauska & Partner operates.
The working group had become a source of numerous initiatives prior to writing the report, ranging from proposals to include the employees to a larger extent in the dialogue about the future of the Hauska & Partner Group, to the proposal of printing a special brochure for all new employees with basic information about the code of conduct and general information each employee must be familiar with.
The working group had also become a place for the exchange of experience and opinions between representatives of different countries in which Hauska & Partner operates, which has literally created a consultation (and to a point the executive) framework for the strategic integration of corporate responsibility into the Hauska & Partner Group.
Due to the fact that we have focused on the working environment in preparing the report, we have used mainly those guidelines of the global reporting initiative (GRI) and the principles of the UN Global Compact, which cover the area of working environment, and when selecting indicators or principles we have considered their functional values in the context of preparing our first report.
The reasons for this approach, which differs from the gradual approach proposed by the latest generation of the global reporting initiatives and the AA1000AS standard for report revision, which requires the fulfilment of the uniformity principle, lie primarily in the intensity of our daily activities focused primarily on clients, and the lack of quality time for internal projects. However, regardless of actual limitations, during the course of last year and as a result of personal efforts of the Group management, preconditions to better deal with issues of corporate responsibility have gradually been established.
Implementing New Methods and Procedures
Reporting in accordance with GRI guidelines and by applying the UN Global Compact principles in practice requires adjustments in processes, creation and introduction of new practices. The methodology for data gathering and the support of the company’s top executives, especially when changes need to be introduced, may have a negative impact on the company stability, while the changes require a bigger and longer engagement than expected.
Based on the experience from the first reporting period, the working group had almost immediately after the first report had been published in March 2007, started with preparations for the next CSR report, the publication of which is expected in mid 2008. The report preparation has been organized according to the principles of project management, where the project documentation determines activities, responsibilities and deadlines for their completion.
The most significant step in comparison with the previous reporting period has been made in the field of recognizing key or material issues, which could influence our operation in each individual country, and also on the level of the Hauska & Partner Group. Since GRI only defines, but does not prescribe how a company should identify material issues, we have laid down a special procedure for identifying material issues in each country, as well as for the entire Group in general.
The new strategic direction opened the space for a series of internal changes – from defining key values of Hauska & Partner Group and organizing internal discussions about our corporate strategy and workplace issues to preparing our first CSR Report in line with G3 guidelines of the GRI. Our new direction also was instrumental in setting up a special Ethical Committee on the Group level and preparing our Social Media Policy. With our next CSR report, we want to establish the basis for credibility of the company that practices what it preaches.
This article was written by Andreja Pavlovic, senior consultant /CR director for H&P Group, Hauska & Partner Croatia. It was excerpted from the PR News Guide to Best Practices in Corporate Social Responsibility, Volume 2. To order a copy, visit the http://www.prnewsonline.com/store/.